I came across this op-ed by Elbridge Colby (a fellow at the neoliberal Center for a New American Security and son of former CIA director William Colby) who is disturbed by the fact that pope Francis is reconsidering the ‘just war’ philosophy.
Recent events in Rome indicate that some influential figures in the Vatican want Pope Francis to use his next encyclical to jettison the “just war” theory as the way the church determines whether or not it is moral to go to war. In particular, they urge that the church replace this age-old model – which focuses on determining a fight’s justifiability by the degree to which it complies with criteria like necessity, likelihood of success, proportionality, and discrimination – with a “peace movement” approach that comes very close to ruling out war as a legitimate instrument in any circumstances, and thus to pacifism.
This idea that there are conditions under which it is moral to go to war has been thoroughly exploited by warmongers and the so-called ‘liberal interventionists’ that we find on among liberals and Democrats to justify all manner of ‘humanitarian wars’ that have turned out to be disastrous for the people whose plight was ostensibly invoked.
Why is Colby upset by this development? Because he thinks that it would give a freer hand to those who want to use power to achieve political ends.
More importantly, a serious narrowing of the legitimate uses of force – let alone an embrace of pacifism – by the kinds of countries most receptive to such a call by the pope would be an invitation to the unscrupulous, the ambitious, the reckless, the aggrieved, and the put-upon to press their claims, and press them hard. It would thus expose the world to more – not less – instability and ultimately war.
Coercion and aggression usually happen because one side thinks it can take something or compel submission and get away with it, or at least not suffer too much. Countries, especially hungry or revisionist ones, test limits. Saddam Hussein reckoned he could seize Kuwait and weather a mild storm. Kim Il-Sung thought he could invade South Korea and avoid U.S. intervention. And, more recently, the Kremlin judged it could attack Georgia and seize Crimea without incurring a sufficiently painful response.
But note his examples of possible bad effects. The US is completely missing from his list of countries that have used “coercion and aggression” because “one side thinks it can take something or compel submission and get away with it, or at least not suffer too much”. Colby completely ignores US “coercion and aggression” in Libya, Iraq, and the rest of the Middle East, not to mention Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and others, some of them more than once.
What Colby seems to be really worried about is not that the jettisoning of the ‘just war’ rationale will increase the risks of aggression by others but that it will limit the ability of the US to justify its own aggressions.